In a decision displaying logic and realism, the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) has chosen Claudio Ranieri to be the new Greece national team coach. The Italian will replace Fernando Santos, who departs after four successful years in which he lead the Greeks past the group stage at both Euro 2012 and this summer's World Cup.
Just like Pippo Inzaghi will always be linked to a Sir Alex Ferguson sound bite, so Claudio Ranieri will forever be known on English shores as the ‘tinkerman’. Lambasted by the British media for his substitutions and tactical alterations in Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final exit to Monaco in 2004, the Italian was quickly axed to make way for Jose Mourinho that same summer.
Respect was never forthcoming for Ranieri from the notoriously fickle British press, with his initial struggle to grasp the English language making him something of a joke figure. Though as the man himself said in a newspaper interview recently, ‘I finished second in the league and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, yet I was labelled a failure’.
Whilst not exactly loved, the Italian is well respected in his native country and has done well with a number of clubs in the peninsula, including Cagliari, Napoli, post-calciopoli Juventus and hometown club Roma. Although not one of Juventus’ greatest coaches, most fans will now admit he did good work in hindsight, returning them to Champions League football after a year in Serie B.
In 2009 he took over at Roma from Luciano Spalletti, a coach famed throughout Europe for his attacking teams. Ranieri threatened change and immediately implemented a 4-3-1-2 formation, which helped the giallorossi (red and yellows) go on a 24 match unbeaten run, only missing out on the Scudetto on the last day to Jose Mourinho’s treble winning Inter.
Most recently, the Roman has been coach of Monaco, ironically the team that hammered the final nail into his blue coffin ten years ago. Although leading the principality side to the Ligue 2 title in his first season met the minimum of expectations considering billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev’s outlay, following that up with a 2nd place finish in Ligue 1 was considered by most as a successful campaign, despite never threatening all-conquering PSG for the title.
Returning the club to the Champions League despite missing record signing Falcao for the last few months of the season, Ranieri would have been forgiven for pouring himself a self-congratulatory glass of prosecco. Much like at Chelsea however, Ranieri wasn’t considered high-profile enough and was sacked at the seasons end.
The Italian always spoke of his desire to coach a national team and now has his chance with Greece, a perfect fit for both the coach and the EPO. In an age where it’s fashionable to have a defined style and ‘principles’ in how you play (as Brendan Rodgers likes to tell everyone), Greece have had a specific way of playing for more than 10 years, but have only attracted negative press.
Yet here is a country (and football association) that understands their players’ strengths and weaknesses and have devised tactics (and chosen coaches) based on this way of playing. As EPO president George Sarris stated following Greece’s World Cup exit, ‘The work of Santos has been invaluable, a continuation of the work of (previous coach) Otto Rehhagel’.
Sarris continued: ‘Mr.Santos further improved the infrastructure of our teams and we believe the next coach will continue on the path that has defined these teams’. Sarris and his board must be applauded for sticking to this blueprint despite criticisms. After all, in the last 10 years Greece have progressed further than England in three major tournaments.
So why does Ranieri go hand-in-hand with Greece? Although their national team performed well below-par at this summer’s World Cup, it’s pretty difficult to disagree that Italian coaches are the most flexible in the world. As Marcello Lippi says ‘Of course we have our faults, but for systems and tactical flexibility no country comes close to Italy’.
Where possible, Ranieri’s preferred weapon has been 4-3-1-2, which varies from Santos’ Greece who played an aggressive 4-5-1. Yet the 62 year old often played 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 at Monaco, showing that he isn’t afraid to change things around depending on the circumstances.
In a team in which not conceding is the main priority, Ranieri will have plenty of ideas to combat a Euro 2016 qualifying group containing Romania, Hungary, Northern Ireland, Finland and the Faroe Islands. Indeed, a comfortable group like that could even allow Ranieri to experiment to create a slightly more attacking Greece side that should comfortably qualify from Group H.
Overall it seems Greece have appointed a coach who fits the jigsaw nicely. The Greeks will not only expected to qualify for tournaments on a regular basis now, but to perform well at them. Perhaps Ranieri sees this as his final job, signing off a successful career by guiding his new employers to France 2016. He could do a lot worse than emulating the successes of his two predecessors.
Follow Charles on Twitter, @cducksbury